At UFC 235 last weekend in the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, veteran welterweight fighter Robbie Lawler nearly pounded former Olympic wrestler and 2/1 favorite Ben Askren into a first-round TKO success. But Askren, making his first UFC appearance, managed to survive Lawler’s early onslaught of head and body shots, and about two minutes later, at 3:20 in the first round, completed the comeback, ending it with a bulldog choke.
Respected referee Herb Dean watched Lawler’s arm limp while he attempted to extricate himself from the choke, causing Dean to stop the fight in what goes down as a submission win for Askren. While contentious and unfortunate for Lawler (and his backers), it was clear, and the popular Lawler quickly turned from aggrieved to praising Dean and expressing his own understanding (transcript here.)
The NFL is the king of U.S sports gambling, but combined martial arts offers something different, in some ways much better and more intriguing, and indeed controversial at times, like each game. Certain events, even to get a somewhat niche game now in its first year of a supply deal on ESPN platforms, can generate the gambling handle seen in a good NFL game.
“Everyone knows a fight”
Exposure to more mainstream audiences through ESPN and FOX Sports 1, through a previous deal, continues to increase MMA’s profile. For to this point, UFC and other promotions like Bellator have long embraced and understood the participation value of sports gambling.
“The UFC has been on the forefront of sports wagering content,” Jason Simbal, vice president of risk management for CG Technology, told Sports Manage. “They chased it by including chances on the websites on telecasts. Along with the announcers will mention the betting favorites throughout the conflicts. They also have their personal produced gaming show which airs before each pay-per-view on UFC Fight Pass, which helps.”
The PGA Tour, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, and National Hockey League alike have”evolved” since the Supreme Court struck down the 1992 national ban on full-fledged sports wagering outside Nevada. Every one of the commissioners of these leagues now tout the virtues of increased engagement anyhow sports wagering, manufacture new monetization opportunities, and delight in the ones that have already come.
However, while each of those leagues, especially MLB, seek to construct new sports gambling bridges using proprietary Statcast characters, for example, there’s no learning curve to begin betting on mixed martial arts.
“I think it comes down to it turned into a fight. And what I mean by that is that if you are managing a lot of other sports, you’re dealing with lots of variables, the principles of football, baseball, basketball,” veteran MMA writer-reporter Damon Martin told Sports Manage. “And there is a guttural instinct in everybody when it comes down to it.

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